Tuesday, July 24, 2012

COSCBWI July 2012: Adding M.I.C.E. To Your Story

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured our former Regional Advisor, Susan Bradley.  Susan is a writer and currently in an MFA program.  She shared a wonderful exercise from her program with the group called "Adding M.I.C.E. to Your Story."

Now, if you write Animal Fantasy books like me, then you might actually add mice with whiskers and tails to your story.  In this case, though, M.I.C.E. stand for Milieu, Idea, Character and Event.  Susan first broke down each category for us.  Essentially, these elements can be summarized as:

Milieu: The world where the story takes place.  It starts when you enter the space, and ends when you exit.  It can also be both physical and emotional.  (Fantasy stories are Milieu heavy.)

Idea: Idea stories are about the process of finding information. The main character devises some sort of plan, and we read to find out if their plan is the answer.  The story is over when the problem is solved.  (Plot-driven stories are Idea heavy.)

Character: The arc is about the transformation of a character in the community that matters most to him/her.  The main character is trying to change his or her role in life, and all relationships have to be relevant to that ultimate change.  Readers keep reading because they love the characters.  (Books like Twilight are Character heavy.)

Event: Event stories focus on events that disrupt the normal world and drive the story forward. Readers live through events with the main character, and the story ends with their success or failure.  (Books like The Hunger Games are Event heavy.)

Of course, no story is just one of these categories, and Susan shared that it's important to find a balance between the M.I.C.E. elements in your book.  That's not to say that you can't have a lot of one element, but if you find some of your M.I.C.E. lacking, it might be a good idea to find a way to boost them a bit.

To experiment with M.I.C.E., we did an exercise looking at the first page of our own manuscripts, as well as the first page from one of our favorite books.  We took markers and designated each M.I.C.E. element as a different color, then highlighted sentences accordingly on our print offs.  It was very interesting to see that some published books were well-balanced right off the bat, while others leaned a lot towards one of the elements.  Again, that's not a bad thing, but we discussed how some published openings might have been improved by adding a little more Character here or perhaps a bit of Milieu there. 

We then discussed the M.I.C.E. in our own first pages. The different colors make a great visual aid to help you see if your writing is balanced or in desperate need of more M.I.C.E.  Susan said this exercise isn't just for first pages, though.  It can be a great way to reconsider a scene that's giving you problems, or help you get a feel for the overall elements throughout your story.  I highly recommend trying this exercise with your own work!

You can find out more information about COSCBWI and events at: www.coscbwi.org.  I hope to see you at our August meeting!

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